Hey everyone! I hope everyone had an enjoyable and safe summer. As I’d discussed earlier in my Pandemic Precautions post, we’ve spent the last year and a half taking many actions to ensure that Anjali isn’t at a high risk for COVID-19 due to her behavioral tendencies naturally not following all the recommended precautions. Reading that post made me think about how the general population of special needs individuals are dealing with the pandemic, and if this community is more susceptible to COVID-19. I found some interesting results when researching this topic, so let’s dive right in!
I want to start off by making it clear to everyone, and clarifying for any reader who may need to know this, that it is important to note that individuals with ASD are NOT “at higher risk for becoming infected with or having severe illness from novel coronavirus (COVID-19)” (CDC). In other words, the diagnosis of ASD, Aspergers, or any other behavioral conditions in itself is not something that puts your immune system at a relatively higher risk for COVID-19. Only individuals in these groups that also happen to have pre-existing health conditions that weaken the organs that the virus attacks are at relatively higher risk, and it is important for any family member of a special needs individual who may fall in this group to be conscious about this fact.
With that out of the way, let’s look at how patterns of social interactions during the pandemic have increased the rate of individuals in the special needs community contracting COVID-19. A study from Drexel University showed that adults with Autism “receive services from outside caregivers and have had avoidable hospitalizations compared to the [parts of the] population without mental health conditions.” Indeed, this added risk is something that even we have contemplated in Anjali’s lifestyle. As is the case for many special needs children, Anjali has ABA therapists visit us on nearly a daily basis, and this necessary part of the lifestyle for individuals with Autism can also serve as a catalyst for spreading COVID-19 in this population group. It is also important to note that precautions that need to be followed for the pandemic can be quite disruptive of the preferences for individuals with Autism. “Physical distancing, restrictions on activities, new telework arrangements, and the shift to virtual learning can cause significant disruptions to daily routines, changing an individual’s physical and social settings. Each of these changes can create challenges for individuals with autism and their families” is how the NIMH perfectly describes this factor. The results of these disruptive precautions can be one of two things: added distress upon the Autistic individual in an already confusing time period or inability for this individual to follow the necessary precautions. This applies to Anjali as well, since I often wonder how well she has acclimated to the new COVID safety protocols at her in-person classes in school, and whether this has been an uncomfortable adjustment period for her, since she is a child that has sensory needs of touching the objects around her.
Well what can be done about this? The top priority should be the safety of special needs individuals in the pandemic. Therefore, precautions should still be followed at all costs, even if it means cutting out somewhat important interactions with outside caregivers during this pandemic time period or guiding the autistic individual through an awkward acclimation period with COVID-19 protocols. However, if something simply can’t be cut out of the lifestyle of a special needs individual’s lifestyle, then the second best option is to ensure that all variables regarding that factor are monitored and controlled. An example of this may be daily in-person therapy sessions being done with a mask on, regular testing of all parties involved on a monthly or weekly basis, and cancelling sessions if anyone develops symptoms. Hope this serves as some food for thought for now, and stay safe everyone!